September 10, 2007

September 10 | Elizabeth of Austria

December 24, 1837 - September 10, 1898: Age 60

Empress Elizabeth of Austria was the third child of a Duke. Her elder sister, Helene, was chosen to be the wife of the young Emperor Franz Josef, but when the family was taken to meet the young monarch he fell in love with Elizabeth. Against everyone's wishes (except hers), they were married. She was 16; he was 23.

Elizabeth's life was as interesting as her personality. Her mother-in-law was a powerful and wily politician who ruled the empire through her son; they never saw eye-to-eye but Elizabeth was one of the very few people in Europe capable of standing up to her. Strong, independent, rich, dazzlingly beautiful, popular, adored by her subjects — even so, Elizabeth was often deeply unhappy. She hated the tedious responsibilities of the role she had married into. She became obsessed with preserving her beauty, and was anorexic, starving herself to maintain a 20-inch waist throughout her life. She traveled obsessively and constantly, becoming more and more restless as she grew older. When in 1889 she lost her son to suicide, she withdrew into deep depression.

On September 10, 1898, 25-year-old Luigi Lucheni, an Italian anarchist, was in Geneva with the intention to kill an aristocrat. His original target was a french Duke, but when that individual changed his itinerary he fixed on the other royal who happened to be in town: the Empress Elizabeth. He actually had no idea who she was, he just knew she was important. While she was boarding a steamship, he rushed up to her and stabbed her with a needle file. She didn't realize she was hurt at first. She had fallen to the ground but got up immediately and proceeded to board the boat. Once on the boat, the wound was discovered, and she was rushed back to land to be seen by a doctor. The wound was small but fatal: it had punctured her heart. She died before receiving medical attention. Her last words were, "What has happened to me?"

Lucheni was sentenced to life in prison. In 1910, 12 years later, he was found hanged in his cell, an apparent suicide. Physicians and psychiatrists, eager to "fathom the secrets of the criminal mind", removed Lucheni's head, preserving it in a jar of formaldehyde. Described as "yellowing" and "sleepy-eyed", it was kept in a closet in Geneva's Institute of Legal Medicine for 66 years. In 1986 the Swiss sent the head to the Anatomical Institute of the University of Vienna, where presumably it remains today.

Sources: Wikipedia, Empress of Austria (Her British Journeys), "Relic of an 1898 Crime Goes Home to Vienna" (New York Times, August 31, 1986)

1 comment:

paintalie said...

thats one way to get ahead in life.